How Mental Health First Aiders are improving employees lives in their workplace

If you have an accident at work, where you trip and fall over or cut your finger, chances are somebody will be first aid trained and will come running to your aid with a green toolkit in hand ready to save the day.

But what happens if your ‘accident at work’ is in fact a mental breakdown? Are you sure that there are people you can speak to that will be able to help and support you?

In 2009 Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) made it their mission to promote equality between physical and mental health in the workplace. They offer training to individuals and organisations on how they can support employees who show signs of poor mental health.

I spoke to mental health first aider Caroline Myers, who works for Reach PLC, a newspaper and digital publisher in the UK, about how her role has impacted her workplace.

Can you explain what a mental health first aider does?

‘A mental health first aider is a point of contact and support for anyone who is experiencing distress or has concerns for someone else. The role of the mental health first aider is to listen non-judgmentally, provide reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help where required and encourage self-help and other support strategies.’

What made you decide to become a mental health first aider?

‘When I was 17-years-old my Dad attempted suicide. It was such a shock as he was the happiest person you could meet. Unknown to me he had been experiencing bouts of depression since his teen years.

‘I attended his psychiatrist appointments with him so I could understand what was happening but also to help me deal with the anger I felt towards my Dad following his suicide attempt.

‘The common theme that kept coming up was around the stigma and the shame of having a mental illness. There was also a lack of support and he was expected to “man up” and “just get on with it” or “snap out of it”.

‘It was at this point that it fuelled a passion within me to try and help people. I would never want anyone to feel that they were alone and there was no one for them to talk to.

‘When Reach introduced mental health first aiders I had a chat with my manager and I registered my interest in volunteering to become one.’

What was your course like?

‘The course was excellent it was a two-day course which was extremely comprehensive. A lot of material was covered on the course, and due to the nature of the content the instructor recognised that some things would be triggers for people and support was given throughout.

‘It was a small group of 12 employees from all different locations and departments within Reach. The course was delivered through a mixture of textbook learning, role play and open discussions.

‘It was really beneficial to share ideas within the group and also experiences we had all encountered. After the course we’ve kept in touch and offer each other support and guidance as well as sharing ideas and resources.’

Do you think your personal experience has helped you become better in your role?

‘Absolutely, it has helped me gain a greater understanding and to be able to show empathy. I experienced a health scare a couple of years ago which left me with crippling anxiety. Reaching out to get help was one of the scariest things to do, but also one of the best.

‘I found cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to be extremely helpful along with mindfulness. If someone had said to me at the point when my anxiety was at its most debilitating that I would be volunteering to become a mental health first aider and travelling to London on my own to complete the course, I would have said absolutely no way! At that point I couldn’t make the journey to work on the bus without having a panic attack.

‘My own journey with my mental health has made me realise it isn’t something which is at a fixed position. I see it more as continuum which we move around and I think that is what is so important and helpful, also recognising that everyone’s journey is different. Recovery is always possible even at times when it doesn’t feel like it.’

Do you think it has had an impact on your office?

‘Yes, we are making steps in the right direction. People are starting to have conversations regarding mental health and attempts are being made to break the stigma. Information is available on our internal intranet but not everyone knows where to find it, so I created a wellbeing board in the kitchen area which has the details on.

‘I was really pleased with the pledge board we put up on World Mental Health Day and that people engaged with it and took the time to put up their pledges.’

Do you think there is more that you could do to better fulfil your role?

‘Yes, there’s always room for improvement and development. I’m continuing to raise awareness and I’m also studying in my personal time.’

Overall how has your experience been?

‘It’s been a really positive experience, the training and support has been excellent. But most importantly being able to be there and listen when colleagues have needed help and support. To be able to know that you’ve helped and made a difference to someone is the most rewarding.’

To find out more about MHFA head to their website here.

Image by Natasha Spenser from Pixabay 

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